The Kid Stays in the Picture

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safari_west.jpgPlenty of Options in Wine Country When Traveling Without Children is Not an Option
By Robert P. Farmer

By now you've heard me go on about life changing drastically for my wife and me. This of course can be pinned squarely on a single pair of tiny shoulders. Since our daughter was born in late 2007, our lifestyle of "Wine Country whenever we want to" has morphed in to a lifestyle of "remember when we used to go to Wine Country."

But now that our little one is reaching a stage when she's decidedly more mobile, the result is a family that has become more mobile as well. In fact we have been to Wine Country on a couple occasions in the months between her birthday and now. Those trips, however, were more anxiety ridden than relaxing - is she going to be comfortable in the portable crib? Will she suddenly erupt if we bring her to dinner? We traveled in Defense Condition Red.
As summer fast approaches, we're already thinking about scheduling getaways to a few of our favorite spots in California. (Yes, our traveling orbit has become profoundly smaller, as we would be warned it would by several friends with kids who'd experienced the same phenomenon.) Accordingly, we're coming to terms with the realization that these planned trips probably won't have the same theme as all those wine-and-food soaked trips past. Instead, it's an occasion to reacquaint ourselves with Wine Country's family-friendly side.

safari_west4.jpgTo be sure, there are plenty of adult-oriented places in Wine Country that are also kid friendly--wineries, restaurants, and hotels included. But what about the places and things that explicitly appeal to children? Having already begun the awesome experience of seeing the world again through my child's eyes, I am eagerly awaiting a trip to Safari West , the 400-acre kid- and group-friendly wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa.

I'd been through it before, on reporterly missions designed to show me the operation from the "official" standpoint. I was impressed, and who wouldn't be, what with the hundreds of impressive animals roaming about in what appears to be complete freedom. At least, they have much more capacity to move around than a typical zoo. And the good news for animals at Safari West goes far beyond that. In addition to offering rustic overnight stays in their tent cabins, this is a bona fide African Wildlife Preserve that happens not to be in Africa.

safari_west3.jpgInstead, just a few giraffe-necks away from some of the best wineries in the world, we can get up close and personal with the likes of giraffe, as well as such precious creatures as cheetah, zebra, lemurs, and the occasional encounter with an addax. And rather than walking up to a cage and hoping for a glimpse, the Safari West encounter is truly like a safari. Tours are taken by open-air jeep and offered by reservation only (no pun intended). And because the facility is dedicated to the preservation, awareness, and education of the numerous species in residents, I can't think of a better way to expose my little one to these magnificent creatures.

Disclaimer: my visit will be a ways off still.  Because there's still an issue of a car seat, which the tour jeeps do not come equipped with. Yet it will be there when we are ready, as will the several other great places in the area to bring the family. The promise of truly kid-friendly options awaits us, which pleases me more than you know. I miss the frequent visits even while I know firmly that we'll reprise the frequency again. But I find myself doubly excited to know that in my future awaits an opportunity to see Wine Country again for the first time.

Safari West. 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa; (707) 579-2551;

Click here for another article on Family Fun in the Wine Country
Readers: Please share other places that you find that are kid-friendly in wine country!

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Tons of family friendly vineyards, farms, and museums too. Best place to stay: rent a home. Save on meals out, plenty of play space, DVDs too. However, only rent from certified hospitality companies to avoid vacstion-ruining problems (like when the stove broke and the home owner was no where to be found)

Our family owned restaurant, COMPADRES RIO GRILLE, located right on The Napa River in North Napa at Lincoln and The Silverado Trail is very kid and family friendly. Quality food that we call "Western Cooking with a Mexican Accent", full bar featuring Margaritas, nice but short wine list, kids menu and non-alcoholic specialties,great outdoor dining...and, a large Koi Pond on the back patio where we provide yound diners with cups of special fish/koi food, then watch their delited faces as the Koi come to the surface and literally inhale these kernels!

Another kid friendly places is in Calistoga - The Petrified Forest. Great for a family hike, learn some history and have fun with nature all around. Chronicle just did an article on it -

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